Excerpted from Keys To The Deeper Life
In their attitude toward the gifts of the Spirit, Christians…have tended to divide themselves into three groups: First, there are those who magnify the gifts of the Spirit until they can see little else. Second, there are those who deny that the gifts of the Spirit are intended for the Church in this period of her history. Third, there are those who appear to be thoroughly bored with the whole thing and do not care to discuss it.
…Another group, so few in number as scarcely to call for classification, consists of those who want to know the truth about the Spirit’s gifts and to experience whatever God has for them within the context of sound New Testament faith. It is for these that this is written.
What Is The Church?
A proper understanding of the gifts of the Spirit in the Church must depend upon a right concept of the nature of the Church…. The true Church is a spiritual phenomenon…composed of regenerated persons who differ from other human beings in that they have a superior kind of life imparted to them at the time of their inward renewal.
In the meantime, they carry His cross, suffer whatever indignities men may heap upon them for His sake, act as His ambassadors, and do good to all men in His name. They steadfastly believe that they will share His triumph and [thus] are perfectly willing to share His rejection by a society that does not understand them. They have no hard feelings—only charity and compassion and a strong desire that all men may come to repentance and be reconciled to God.
This is a fair summary of one aspect of New Testament teaching about the Church. But another truth, more revealing and significant to those seeking information about the gifts of the Spirit, is that the Church is a spiritual body, an organic entity united by the life that dwells within it.
Each member is joined to the whole by a relationship of life. As a man’s soul may be said to be the life of his body, so the indwelling Spirit is the life of the Church. The idea that the Church is the body of Christ is not an erroneous one…. The Apostle Paul in three of his epistles sets forth this truth in such sobriety of tone and fullness of detail as to preclude the notion that he is employing a casual figure of speech not intended to be taken too literally.
[His] clear, emphatic teaching…is that Christ is the Head of the Church, which is His body. The parallel is drawn carefully…. Conclusions are drawn from the doctrine, and certain moral conduct is made to depend upon it.
As a normal man consists of a body with various obedient members [and] a head to direct them, so the true Church is a body, individual Christians being the members and Christ the Head.
The mind works through the members of the body, using them to fulfill its intelligent purposes. Paul speaks of the foot, the hand, the ear, the eye as being members of the body, each with its proper but limited function; but it is the Spirit that worketh in them (1 Cor:12:1-31).
The teaching that the Church is the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 follows a listing of certain spiritual gifts and reveals the necessity for those gifts.
The intelligent head can work only as it has at its command organs designed for various tasks. It is the mind that sees, but it must have an eye to see through. It is the mind that hears, but it cannot hear without an ear. And so [it is] with all the varied members—the instruments by means of which the mind moves into the external world to carry out its plans.
As all man’s work is done by his mind, so the work of the Church is done by the Spirit, and by Him alone. But to work, He must set in the body certain members with abilities specifically created to act as media through which the Spirit can flow toward ordained ends.
How Many Gifts?
Paul mentions no less than 17 (1 Cor:12:4-11, 27-31; Rom:12:3-8; Eph:4:7-11). These are not natural talents merely but gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit to fit the believer for his place in the body of Christ…. [T]hrough the body of Christ, God is doing an eternal work above and beyond the realm of fallen nature. This requires supernatural working.
Religious work can be done by natural men without the gifts of the Spirit, and it can be done well and skillfully. But work designed for eternity can only be done by the eternal Spirit…through gifts He has Himself implanted in the souls of redeemed men….
Certain evangelical teachers have told us that the gifts of the Spirit ceased at the death of the apostles or at the completion of the New Testament. This, of course, is a doctrine without a syllable of biblical authority back of it…. The result of this erroneous teaching is that spiritually gifted persons are ominously few among us. When we so desperately need leaders with the gift of discernment, for instance, we do not have them and are compelled to fall back upon the techniques of the world. This frightening hour calls aloud for men with the gift of prophetic insight. Instead we have men who conduct surveys, polls, and panel discussions. We need men with the gift of knowledge. In their place we have men with scholarship—nothing more….
[T]he Scriptures plainly imply the imperative of possessing the gifts of the Spirit. Paul urges that we both “covet” and “desire” spiritual gifts (1 Cor:12:31; 14:1). It does not appear to be an optional matter with us but rather a scriptural mandate to those who have been filled with the Spirit.
But I must also add a word of caution. The various spiritual gifts are not equally valuable, as Paul so carefully explained. Certain brethren have magnified one gift out of 17 out of all proportion.… [T]he general moral results of this teaching have…not been good…. [I]t has resulted in much shameless exhibitionism, a tendency to depend upon experiences instead of upon Christ, and often a lack of ability to distinguish the works of the flesh from the operations of the Spirit.
Those who deny that the gifts are for us today and those who insist upon making a hobby of one gift are both wrong, and we are all suffering the consequences of their errors.
…We have every right to expect our Lord to grant to His church spiritual gifts, which He has never in fact taken away from us but which we are failing to receive only because of our error or unbelief.
It is more than possible that God is even now imparting the gifts of the Spirit to whomsoever He can and in whatever measure He can as His conditions are met even imperfectly. Otherwise, the torch of truth would flicker out and die.
Clearly, however, we have yet to see what God would do for His Church if we would all throw ourselves down before Him with an open Bible and cry, “Behold Thy servant, Lord! Be it unto me even as Thou wilt.”